Drama. Deceit. Devastation. It's not just reality TV, it's the reality that most of us experience when we end a relationship, because we don't and won't leave our mate until we reach the point of hating, hurting and hardly speaking. Like a pit bull gripping its most beloved doggie toy, we believe that if we feel any love at all for this person, we must stay, fight and make the relationship work. And only when we think that love is gone, do we concede and dive head first into the despair of an ugly, hurtful, messy divorce.
We will walk on coals to keep our relationship alive, whatever it takes, no matter if we are happy or this person is the best partner for our lives. If you love each other you must stay and make it work or keep trying until things get so bad that you can justify the ending -- no matter how lonely, exhausted or unhappy -- right? Wrong!
This crazy line of thinking has kept people stuck in wrong relationships and suffering through bad marriages for way too long. Even when we know this person will never be the partner we desire, or that we are no longer the best fit, we hang around because we "love them." But love should never require sacrificing yourself or forfeiting your joy or life dreams.
You can love a person and choose not to be with them. Love is not enough of a reason to stay in a relationship.
I figured this out the hard way, after the drama-filled ending of my 15-year relationship, which took the storyline of my fiancé announcing on the car ride to our engagement party, "I don't love you anymore. I don't want to marry you anymore. And, oh by the way, I've been cheating on you for six months." Drama. Devastation. And ouch!
Years later, I realized that the drama and deceit that we created could have been avoided if I had only known: 1) The truth about love and 2) The simple but smart rules to ending a relationship with dignity, grace and love. Yes the split would have hurt, but nowhere near as bad.
#1 LIE: You shouldn't split up until you've fallen out of love.
TRUTH: Once you love someone, you'll love them forever. People don't fall in and out of love, as if love can be measured. People fall out of trust, intimacy, and respect, not love.
LOVE RULE: During a divorce, take "love" out of the equation.
Eradicate sayings like "I love you, but I'm not in love with you," or "I just love you differently," or "I am in love with someone else." These words are such a cop out. There is no ownership, real feeling or honesty. There is no way to respond. They just cause unnecessary massive hurt. Be honest with your ex or soon to be ex about the real "why's" this relationship is no longer working, which have nothing to do with love or anyone else. It's okay to love each other and still choose to end your relationship, in fact it's the best way. While the split will still be sad, it doesn't have to be dramatic or deceitful.
#2 LIE : If we loved each other more, we would be able to make this relationship work.
TRUTH: Love is only a prerequisite, and it's the easy part. Great marriages take deep partnership, and a commitment and a willingness to grow together and individually on all levels -- emotionally, mentally and spiritually -- by both people.
LOVE RULE: Be honest about what your relationship lacked. Assess on a scale of 1-10 your relationship on six of the most essential parts of a great marriage and growing partnership:
Respect: both of your actions and words never hit below the belt
Trust: you can and do share everything
Truth: there is full honesty between each other and with yourselves
Friendship: you're true BFFs, on each other's side, always there for each other through everything
Intimacy: deep emotional connection
Unconditional Love: always there no matter what, love is never taken away
Think about the last two years of your marriage and be honest. If you score less than an 8 any individual indicator, give yourself the gift of honesty. Act as your own best friend and tell yourself the truth about why this relationship was no longer the right one for you. Being honest with yourself will make it easier for you to take the split less personal. You'll be able to see the love didn't die, but other things did.
#3 LIE: If the relationship ends, we have failed.
TRUTH: The failure is overstaying.
LOVE RULE: Be honest with yourself and each other when it's time to end your relationship, without having to make it anyone's fault. Talk to each other instead of resorting to behaviors that cause drama, deceit and devastation. Your goal is not to become the next reality TV show, but to use the power of unconditional love and respect (that you hopefully started the relationship with) to gracefully transition out of this marriage. Remember, you both want the best for each other, don't you? Use words like, "I love you, and this relationship is no longer good for either of us" or "I am sad that this is ending, and we both know it's time." Which if you're honest with yourself, you both know deep down is true. And because the love is still there, no one has to be in the wrong.